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Publisher: MacPlay    Genre: Action
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: 601 @ 233 MHz    RAM: 64 MB    Hard Disk: 180 MB

HeXen II
November 21, 2002 | Richard Hallas

Click to enlarge
MacPlay's recent explosion of budget game titles is very welcome for Mac gamers, especially when they involve Mac OS X-compatible releases of great titles from the past. While it's not reasonable to expect cutting edge technology in these older games (especially in the graphics department), it's how well the games play that's the important thing for most people.

Hexen II is a case in point. The game dates from 1997, which is obviously ancient history in game terms; so who would want to play a five-year-old game on a modern machine? There are two reasonable answers to that question: "Anyone who has an old machine that can't run the latest titles" and "Anyone who wants to play an engaging game that's challenging and fun." Once you've got past the initial shock of some fairly crummy graphics and become absorbed, the game's age and lack of visual finesse ceases to be a concern. (And besides, the graphics aren't that bad.)

Hexen II is, in fact, a pretty absorbing game. Yes, alright, it's just another first-person shooter, but at least it has some redeeming features that elevate it some way above the 'run around and shoot everything in sight' category. Whilst it doesn't exactly involve massive brain-power, it does have a number of puzzles to solve, making it much more engaging than if all you had to do was clear each level of baddies. Also, it features the hub system that was introduced in the original Hexen, meaning that you can move freely between different areas (the only penalty being the loading time incurred on each transition). Often, in this game, you'll need to spend quite a bit of time running around between different levels, collecting keys, combining objects and solving other puzzles in order to progress.

Background story
Hexen II is quite an interesting game, not so much because of its background story as the story of its actual release, especially on the Mac. The original game in the series was Heretic, a traditional, linear first-person shooter. The sequel to Heretic was Hexen, and its main innovation was the hub system, just described, which allowed you to travel between levels in a non-linear fashion. Hexen II is really just more of the same, with a similar hub-based approach to the original Hexen, though there's a stronger emphasis on the puzzle element. However, the game took a long time to appear on the Mac; the original Hexen enjoyed a Mac release well over half a decade ago, but it took until 2001 for Hexen II to appear, thanks to the industry of some Mac programmers who produced an excellent freeware conversion that was reviewed in IMG last year. But it was never released as an official Mac product, so Mac players obviously had to get hold of a copy of the PC release in order to obtain the levels for use with the Mac conversion.

Now, though, MacPlay has finally released Hexen II as a commercial Mac release, albeit as a budget title in its Value range (at $20 it's not quite at bargain-bin level, but good value nevertheless). The only regrettable aspect is that levels for the Portal of Praevus expansion pack are not included in the MacPlay edition, whereas the 2001 freeware release was perfectly capable of playing them. I therefore knock a point off my 'Value' score, which I would otherwise have rated 8. In reality the game is actually quite a good value (even without the expansion levels) because it's quite long and basically pretty tough. It also has greater-than-average replay value in that you can choose between four different character classes at the outset, which (if you want to extract full value) means that you can play through the entire game four times and get a moderately different experience each time.

Anyway, as far as the game's own story is concerned, once again it's you against the forces of evil. (Excuse me if I fall asleep in the middle of this.) The last of the Serpent Riders you faced in the previous games, Eidolon, is still alive and in the land of Thyrion. You must battle your way to him through Medieval, Egyptian, Mesoamerican and Roman continents, fighting one of Eidolon's Dark Generals, the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death, Pestilence, Famine and War), at the end of each section before finally facing Eidolon himself for a grand show-down at the end.

How Egypt, Rome and the other locations have found their way into Thyrion isn't made abundantly clear, but who cares about plot holes when such varied locations are available? To be fair, in terms of the background story these continents are called Blackmarsh, Mazaera, Thysis and Septimus, but it's clear where their inspiration lies, and indeed MacPlay's own advertising refers to them as being 'worlds' in Egypt, Roman and the other styles.


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